En-Titled to celebrate

Thirty years ago last month, President Richard Nixon, Law '37, signed into law the legislation that jolted women's athletics forward. Title IX forced schools to offer athletic opportunities to both genders, and the effects have been incredible. Five times as many female athletes participate in intercollegiate sports, and three million girls participate in sports at the high school level -- 10 times more than the 300,000 who were allowed to play in 1972. Furthermore, many have attributed other positive developments, such as a greater balance in the ratio of men and women in college, to the gender integration the law has demanded.

The anniversary allows colleges to realize how Title IX has been crucial to fostering a more welcoming environment for women throughout the past three decades by creating more welcoming environments for women in the past three decades. But the the landmark statute remains virtually unchanged and it has not adjusted to fit into the world it has so beneficially transformed. Title IX has unintendedly been a factor in cutbacks to men's sports nationwide, including wrestling, baseball and even football, as schools have worked toward federal compliance. A measure designed to level the playing field is creating its own inequalities.

Administrators at Duke and around the nation have made imprudent choices to create artificial parity. For instance, in 1998, the University promoted women's rowing to a varsity sport for Title IX compliance, and the program now draws more money than any other non-revenue sport, even though it lacks the base of fans and attendance many other sports -- men's and women's -- enjoy. In the greatest inequality, the men's team remains a club sport with a substantially smaller budget.

With 85 possible scholarship spots and millions of dollars locked into the football program, other men's sports start at an immediate disadvantage in the continuing quest to divide funds<and scholarships -- evenly between male and female teams, and these levels still remain unequal. Everyone should applaud how Title IX continues to help women in opening locked doors, but this equality should be reached by augmenting opportunities for all<not the present zero-sum game.

President George W. Bush has appropriately appointed a commission with qualified members from academia to revise Title IX, and they will hopefully determine whether male and female athletes are receiving equal treatment. The commission should also consider the feasibility of proposals that would better account for football and other revenue-generating sports, such as men's basketball or ice hockey at some institutions.

At the same time, significantly weakening or even repealing Title IX must not be the goal. In addition to protecting the gains women's athletics have made, the legislation continues to close gaps in coaches' salary and other financial issues -- at Duke, the average salary of a men's sport coach is twice that of a women's team coach.

But the nation's colleges would be well-served with a more flexible set of guidelines as collegiate athletics enters a new era.


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